In one of the most-interesting final games of the first half, the Chicago Blackhawks (24-20-6) will host the Florida Panthers (27-16-5) on Tuesday night. This game is intriguing not just because both teams come in on five-game winning streaks, but also because it’s the first time Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville will return to Chicago to face his old team.
Here is a preview of Tuesday night’s matchup between the Panthers and Blackhawks, along with odds and a free pick.
By The Numbers
We’ll start with Quenneville’s Panthers, who are rolling into the All-Star break on a hot streak. Fresh off a 5-4 victory against the Wild on Monday, Florida now has five straight wins, which is its season high. The Panthers have scored an impressive 26 goals during that stretch, with no fewer than four goals in any game.
A high-powered offense is nothing new for Florida. The Panthers are the league leaders in goals scored with 3.67 per game. They also rank seventh with 33.4 shots on goal and have a top-five shooting percentage. On the man advantage, Florida is sixth with a 24 percent success rate.
There are lots of high-scoring affairs on both sides, however. Florida has allowed an average of 3.27 goals per game, 25th in the NHL. The Panthers also rank a mediocre 22nd in shots allowed with 32 and have a 78.2 penalty kill rate, 23rd in the NHL.
After spending much of the season in the Central Division’s cellar, the Blackhawks have risen up to postseason contention. Thanks to a five-game winning streak, also the longest streak it’s had this season, Chicago is just three points behind the Coyotes for the second Wild Card position out west.
During its win streak, Chicago has scored four or more goals in four of the five games, a huge improvement given that its offense ranks 18th with three goals per game. The Blackhawks also currently sit 19th in the league with 30.9 shots and have the 15th-ranked shooting percentage. Their power play still leaves something to be desired, with their 15.3 conversion rate ranking just 27th.
Defensively, the Blackhawks are firmly in the middle of the league with 3.06 goals allowed per game, ranking 16th. That’s in large part to goaltending, as their 35.3 shots allowed is the most in hockey. But Chicago does have a very good penalty kill, which is sixth with a .831 kill rate.
Who To Watch
Florida’s high-powered offense is charged by Jonathan Huberdeau. While his four-game point streak was snapped Monday in Minnesota, Huberdeau still enters Tuesday’s game as the team leader in points thanks to 18 goals and 46 assists. Thanks to his playmaking ability, he has spearheaded the league’s highest-scoring offense, while placing himself into the elite tier of NHL stars.
But Huberdeau is hardly doing this alone. The Panthers will also trot out impressive forwards Aleksander Barkov, Mike Hoffman, and Evgenii Dadonov. Barkov has a five-game point streak going and a total of 53 points on the season.
Hoffman’s streak is longer than anyone’s, entering Tuesday night with a point or more in nine straight contests (five goals and six assists during that span). Then there’s Dadonov, who, thanks to goals in each of the last three games, has 22 total, making him the only Panther with 20 or more goals this season.
On the Chicago side, there are few things in the NHL that are more consistent than the production of Patrick Kane. Win or lose, Kane continues to stand out as one of the game’s superstars, with 24 goals and 38 assists on the season.
Currently, the future Hall of Famer has a 10-game point streak in which he has four goals and 11 assists, which included his 1,000th career point as well.
Kane is also joined by his partner in crime, Jonathan Toews, along with youngsters Dominik Kubalik and Alex DeBrincat. The captain Toews has been on fire, racking up four goals and nine assists during his current six-game point streak, bringing his total production on the year to 14 goals and 30 assists.
Meanwhile, Kubalik continues to find the back of the net, scoring 10 goals in his last eight games to up his total to 21. Finally, DeBrincat has three goals and four assists over the last 10 games, with 12 goals and 22 assists overall.
With Sergei Bobrovsky in net Monday, expect Florida to turn to backup Sam Montembeault, who is currently 4-2-1 with a 3.35 GAA and a .888 save percentage.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks will send out Robin Lehner to man the net. Lehner, who splits time with Corey Crawford, is 15-7-4 with a 2.81 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
Odds And Pick
Oddsmakers think this is going to be a close one Tuesday night, with the Blackhawks at home favored slightly at -115. Quenneville’s return will certainly create a lot of emotion for both sides, so expect a hard-fought game throughout.
Ultimately, I’m siding with Chicago for two main reasons. First, the Blackhawks have a huge advantage in goal with Lehner. Second, with Florida playing a wild and exhausting game Monday, look for a rested Blackhawks team to continue their excellent play and head into the All-Star break on a high note. Give me the Blackhawks -115 Tuesday night.